Living and Loving the Acer Aspire One 522

What an odd situation this is. For the past week or so, the only netbook / notebook I have been carrying with me is the Aspire One 522.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

What an odd situation this is. For the past week or so, the only netbook / notebook I have been carrying with me is the Aspire One 522. Never mind that the display resolution is "only" 1024x600. Never mind that the keyboard is absolutely flat, so the feel is a bit odd and touch-typing takes some getting used to. I just like it. It's kind of like it was with the HP 2133 Mini-Note, despite a number of apparent drawbacks or problems, I prefer using it. First because it is so small and light, and because the screen is so clear and bright. It is also quite fast - the AMD C-60 cpu and Radeon HD 6290M display controller make it noticeably faster than the other netbooks I have around here. I can connect it to an external display via VGA when I want to do more serious work at home, or to a TV via HDMI When I want to show my photographs, and in both cases the dual-display netbook/external works perfecty, and makes using it much easier and more pleasant. Oh, and it has a memory card slot that takes Memory Stick as well as SD/xD cards, which is a very nice extra.

I have spent a bit of time working out the last couple of problems I've had with it. After finding a work-around for the "network interfaces cause a freeze on boot" problem (see see previous blog post on this, the one problem remaining was with the display, and specifically with the AMD/ATI Radeon HD 6290M controller. With the newer, more "up-to-date" Linux distributions, such as openSuSE, Fedora, Ubuntu and their derivatives, the X.org FOSS Radeon driver works pretty well. Ordinary use is quite good, but there is some instability and corrupted/flickering displays during boot and shutdown. With Debian 6.0.4 and SimplyMEPIS, though, they use an older version of X.org, and the FOSS driver doesn't support the 6290 chip, so it falls back to the VESA driver at 800x600 resolution. Not nice, and not really usable.

I first tried installing the proprietary fglrx driver from the software repositories of each of these distributions, with disappointing results. The package included with the openSuSE/Fedora/Ubuntu distributions doesn't recognize the 6290 controller, so it puts a large square at the corner of the screen which says "Unsupported Hardware" and it doesn't work anywhere near well enough to use. The package included with Debian and SimplyMEPIS is much older, and doesn't recognize the 6290 at all so it still falls back to the VESA driver at 800x600. Not encouraging.

I then decided to try the latest fglrx package available directly from AMD/ATI. To get that, go to the AMD Support & Drivers web page, then navigate through "Notebook Graphics", "Radeon HD Series", "Radeon HD6xxxM Series" and either "Linux x86" or "Linux x86_64" as appropriate. That will download an installer package which installed perfectly on both Debian 6.0.4 and SimplyMEPIS 11.0.12. The installation instructions then give the steps to stop the X display server and start it again, but I can save you some time and trouble here, just reboot and it will come up running the fglrx driver at 1024x600 resolution. Hooray!

The important thing about all of this is that it was not tremendously difficult to do - there is no rocket science here. Install the base distribution, download one package from AMD/ATI and run that, and you're ready to go. Good stuff!

So, now I am really happy with this little netbook. The way these things tend to go, I will be seeing a lot of friends over the next couple of weekends, and someone else will see how nice it is... and I will end up passing it on to them, so I'll be back at the beginning with some other system before too long. That's just they way it seems to work around here.


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